Group of LGBTQI Methodist clergy comes out, in defiance of church law

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Dorothee Benz, 718-314-4432

Group of LGBTQI Methodist Clergy Comes Out,
in Defiance of Church Law

Fifteen members of the New York Conference sign letter, risking credentials

May 2, 2016, New York – In an unprecedented challenge to the United Methodist Church’s discriminatory policies excluding “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ministry, 15 UMC clergy and clergy candidates in the New York Annual Conference today released an open letter “to the people of the United Methodist Church” declaring, “We are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer clergy and candidates.” The public announcement is a chargeable offense under UMC law and exposes them to possible church trials, sanctions, and defrocking. While numerous individual clergy and clergy candidates in the denomination have come out in the past, this is the first time a group of ministers have taken action together. The move comes a week before the UMC’s quadrennial General Conference, which is expected to affirm the exclusionary rules amidst anticipated protests.

“The UMC demands that we lie about who we are in order to be in ministry,” the letter explains. “It does violence to our souls. It is the very opposite of the integrity that is foundational to ministry. This demand is fundamentally unjust, and we can no longer be complicit in upholding and reinforcing it. It is premised on a lie, codified in our Book of Discipline – that our lives are ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ – and it does immense harm both to those whom it forces to harm themselves and to countless others to whom it communicates that there is something wrong with the way God created them.”

Said Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy, the chair of Methodists in New Directions, which organized the group effort, “To stay silent and to stay closeted is to support our church’s unjust status quo. We cannot do that.” Tweedy faced an official complaint for being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” in 2013, which was dismissed after 14 months of investigation. “Given the intransigence of General Conference, the only way forward is for us to be the church we hope and pray our beloved denomination will one day become. Transformation of the church comes from below.”

Since 1972, the UMC has declared in its Book of Discipline that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” In subsequent General Conferences, it has added numerous discriminatory rules barring LGBTQI people from serving in ministry, minsters from performing weddings for same-sex couples, and church funds from being used to defend LGBTQI people’s human rights. Additionally, a 2005 UMC Judicial Council decision made it permissible for UMC pastors to bar LGBTQI people from membership in the church.

The UMC General Conference is the only body that can undo this systemic codified discrimination, but that body is dominated by a combination of U.S. and international conservatives that have blocked all efforts at reform for 40 years.

The institutional dead-end for equality advocates in the church has fueled the growth of an ecclesial disobedience movement, drawing inspiration and instruction from civil disobedience tactics and the non-violent resistance philosophy of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. Since 2011, thousands of clergy and lay supporters across the denomination have banded together in annual conference networks to do weddings for all couples on an equal basis, in open defiance of the church’s rules.

Today’s collective action by New York Conference clergy represents the extension of that ecclesial disobedience strategy to the issue of ordination in the UMC.

“I'm inspired and encouraged by my colleagues of the New York Conference for their bold action today,” said Rev. Cynthia Meyer. “I'm grateful that we stand in solidarity together, in obedience to the Gospel, and in the strength of our call to ministry. Authentic, prophetic leadership requires challenging our denomination when it clings to rigid legalism, when it is wrong. The United Methodist Church is wrong when it continues to discriminate against the God's beloved LGBTQI children.” Meyer is currently facing church charges for coming out to her congregation as a lesbian.

Bishop Melvin Talbert expressed a similar sentiment on April 23 when he told Buzzfeed, “I have to make a choice between my church and God, and I am choosing God," referring to his decision to officiate at the wedding of Jim Wilborne and John Romano.

Talbert popularized the phrase “Biblical obedience” for the ecclesial disobedience movement in the UMC. The national Reconciling Ministries Network, with which MIND is affiliated, has started an “It’s Time” campaign in the run-up to General Conference.

The New York clergy letter ends with a call to action to others in the church:

“We call on LGBTQI United Methodist clergy and candidates everywhere to come out and join us in the refusal of further acquiescence to a system that silences and excludes queer people.

“We call on boards of ordained ministry to refuse to discriminate any longer and to publicly declare their refusal.

“We call on bishops to refuse to process complaints against LGBTQI people for being themselves.

“We call on all United Methodists everywhere to refuse their own complicity in our denomination’s systemic oppression of queer people and to protest this injustice at General Conference and elsewhere until it is finally ended.”